Nepos | Updates

By Paul Lunow

Das Nepos UI+


Dear Companists,

The heart of the Nepos tablet is the universal user interface. But what exactly is behind it? How does the so-called UI+ work, what content can be displayed and what special features does it have with regard to the target group? These questions are asked again and again. Therefore, we want to answer them in detail below.


What does the abbreviation UI+ stand for?

The abbreviation UI stands for "user interface." This refers to the user interface by which people communicate with machines. We come into daily contact with an infinite number of user interfaces: When we check messages on our smartphone, process documents on a computer, or buy a ticket at a ticket machine. All programs, websites, and apps are operated via user interfaces. Using the mouse, a keyboard, the touchscreen and, increasingly, voice control, we issue commands and communicate with the operating system. UI+ also stands for "universal interface." This word creation is intended to emphasize that the Nepos user interface works according to the same general logic for all applications.


What content can be displayed using UI+?

Any external content can be integrated via interfaces. With our interface, any application can be used safely without having to learn a new method. Third-party content can be integrated by providing their data via standardized interfaces. During the introductory phase, we start with a reduced selection of pre-installed apps (content). However, users can also access all Internet content via the browser. More content will be added in the course of time. With the UI+ we offer a constant in a rapidly developing world: the contents can be changed and expanded, but the operation always remains the same. In the future, the tablet could also be used to handle civic office matters or to hold online consultation hours. In 2020, we plan to open the platform to third parties. In other words, we give providers the option of appearing in UI+ automatically.


Nepos - Interface Connection


Nepos The UI+


How did you develop the UI+?

We wanted to develop an operating concept that would allow even inexperienced users to do all the things we do online: Writing emails, listening to music, watching videos, booking tickets, transferring money, etc... It should be a tool with which new offers can be used uncomplicatedly, in the same way as already learned, in the future. We formed a test group in a senior citizens' home in Berlin, the Rosenhof Academy, to compare our ideas with the needs of the target group. The first workshops confirmed our assumption: Seniors want to benefit from the advantages of the digital age. However, they are quickly overwhelmed by unknown technical terms, dynamic navigation elements, overloaded screens, and unclear instructions. They give up quickly when they don't understand something.


Do digital natives have a different orientation than digital beginners?

Yes. Our focus tests and long-term studies showed that orientation is of central importance for digital beginners. The test users always wanted to know how and why they got from step A to step B. This gave us the idea of building an operating concept on the basis of a circular logic. Menus should open up step by step, show the way and always remain in view. All content should contain only one or two main actions, preferably only those that are relevant to the decision. After the first workshops, we developed test apps that we reviewed on a monthly basis.


What was the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge was to create a unified structure for all the different third-party application scenarios, such as writing emails, selecting goods, setting up contacts, transferring money, including scrolling, searching, sending. In addition to our test users' requested apps, we therefore deliberately implemented complicated applications on the test devices. We wanted to make sure that even more complex processes could be controlled via UI+. For example, we included an HRS app, because choosing a hotel room is usually non-linear and involves many steps: searching, filtering, selecting, assessing the price, comparing offers, etc... It was important for us that a complex selection procedure is possible with the familiar operating logic of the UI+, in order to be able to cover all future, still unknown applications in the same logic.


Nepos - Entwicklungsskizzen


What role did the target group tests play and how often did they take place?   

Without the close exchange with the target group, we would not be as far as we are today. We were only able to analyze the solution strategies of the users and develop the UI+, which is so precisely tailored to the specific needs of older people, through our intensive tests and surveys. We started with regular individual tests. Over two years, we discussed and reviewed new ideas, concepts, and prototypes on a monthly basis. In total, we worked with more than 300 testers and conducted three long-term studies to examine every aspect of UI+ in detail.


Nepos - Zielgruppentests


What problem do older people face?

It is neurologically preprogrammed that we lose interest in learning new things at the age of 25. The so-called "fluid intelligence" diminishes. One does not become dumber; one simply adds more and more experience-based knowledge, so-called "crystalline intelligence," as one's life experience increases. Over the course of a lifetime there is a kind of "trade-off" between the two forms of intelligence, with a rather pronounced shift in old age towards crystalline intelligence, which means that we no longer enjoy learning new technologies so much after the age of 60, even if we are interested in the application itself.


Nepos - Intelligence in old age


Do you have to pay attention to specific things when designing interfaces for older people?

When seniors have difficulties with technology, they always blame themselves. They are quickly demotivated. They want to be "taken by the hand" but not treated like idiots. When they do something successfully, they want feedback. If you learn something new at an advanced age, you will soon forget it again if it is not based on familiar patterns. That is why it is so important that the interaction always follows the same pattern. Continuity is the guarantee for security and trust. Our testers are aware that they are older but they do not want to be stigmatized. That's a fine line.


Nepos - Interface Design


Are there general interface design rules for seniors?

Older people have high demands on design and aesthetics, simply increasing the font size is not enough. Contrasts are important, as are large white areas and avoiding blocks of text that are too small. Information on context and orientation is essential. Changes on the screen must be clearly recognizable. Hidden functions that can be triggered by a "special" gesture do not work at all. Each step must be visually and consciously controlled. However, consistency is the be-all and end-all: Related elements must remain the same in arrangement, color, and functionality throughout use. Sounds simple and logical, but is not easy to implement within this range of possibilities.


What are the basic principles of operation?

  • Each operating element has exactly one function - the user cannot inadvertently trigger any actions.
  • The user is guided in a multimodal way - sound, language help, description, shapes, and colors guide him to his goal.
  • One solution - there is one solution for every requirement so that we achieve stringency in all accompanying explanatory materials and all communication.
  • Aesthetic appeal - clarity and minimalism lead to a visually appealing design.


Why does a UI+ only exist now? Why didn't anyone invent it sooner?

The lack of a uniform structure is the central problem of older users. Others have surely recognized this before us. However, only with the increasing separation of front-end and back-end, has it been possible in recent years to access third-party content via APIs and to integrate it into a new, uniform interface. As far as we know, we are the first to have started designing and implementing a universal interface for this target group. It was important to us to systematically involve the users over the entire development period of three years, even though the development process was slowed down as a result.


You can watch three videos in our profile about how the Universal User Interface works when writing emails, using online banking, and shopping online: Overview -> The Universal Interface UI+

There will always be user interfaces through which people communicate with machines. With its UI+, Nepos creates a basis to make technical devices available to the future 65+ generations as well. The Nepos tablet is only the beginning.


Best Greetings,

Giuseppe Vitucci (Lead Interface Designer), Paul, and Florian


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